One Night in Bethlehem


This is not a factual story, but it could have happened long ago one night in Bethlehem.

After feeding the innkeeper’s cow and donkey, Ezra came out of the stable and leaned against the door. If I’m asked to feed one more animal or run one more errand tonight, he thought, I just can’t do it.

Ezra had worked at the inn in Bethlehem ever since his parents died last year. In all that time he had never seen a day as busy as this one had been. The inn was filled with people who had come to the village of their ancestors to be taxed as the emperor of Rome had commanded.

Under a sky bright with stars, Ezra looked at the sleeping camels, horses, and donkeys tied to railings in the courtyard. He wondered where he was going to sleep since his tiny room with its straw pallet had already been rented to travelers.

Even Asaph, the innkeeper, and his wife, Anna, had rented their room. They had put straw in a small corner under the stairs so they would have someplace soft to sleep.

I’ll sleep in the stable, Ezra thought. Just then he heard a clatter on the cobblestones of the deserted street. When he looked around, a small donkey entered the courtyard carrying a weary young woman. A man walked beside the donkey and then moved slowly toward the inn door. The man knocked, but no one came to the door.

Ezra knew there was no room in the inn, but the woman looked tired and the donkey limped in weariness. The man knocked harder. Suddenly the door was flung open, and Asaph shouted, “We have no room!” Then the door was slammed shut.

Ezra was surprised that the innkeeper would be so rude. He must be very tired, Ezra thought. The boy knew that Asaph was not a cruel man, for both he and his wife were good to him. Sometimes Ezra even wished he belonged to them.

Ezra knew that every house in the village had visitors. But he wanted so much to help the strangers that he ran across the courtyard when he saw the man turning the donkey around. “The stable is clean,” Ezra explained. “There is plenty of room for you to sleep there.”

“You are very kind,” the woman smiled.

While Ezra put the donkey in a stall and brought food for the animal, the man made a bed on the hay at the other end of the stable. Then he helped the woman onto the bed and covered her with his cloak.

While he was drawing water from the well, Ezra wondered why it was so easy to lift the bucket now, when only a short time before he was sure he couldn’t lift another drop. The boy hurried to the stable with the bucket of water. Now, he thought on the way, if only I can get some of Anna’s good bread and a little milk for the strangers!

As Ezra quietly opened the kitchen door, he was surprised to see a candle burning. Asaph was leaning on the table, his head resting on his arms. The boy began to tiptoe out again when Asaph raised his head. “Ezra, haven’t you been able to find a place to sleep?”

“I will soon find a place,” Ezra replied. “I thought you had fixed some straw under the stairs.”

Asaph sighed, “I had just fallen asleep when a man knocked on the door. When I finally got up and answered, I was so tired and so angry at being disturbed that I was very rude to him. Now I can’t sleep because I’m sorry I didn’t try to help him.”

“The man and his wife are in the stable,” Ezra said quietly. “I told them they could stay there tonight. I hope you don’t mind, Asaph.”

A smile crossed the innkeeper’s face. “I don’t mind, Ezra. I’m glad you are a kind boy. Are you hungry?”

“No, sir, but I think the people in the stable are.”

Asaph went to the pantry. Bringing back a cruse of milk and a loaf of bread, he said, “I’ll go with you, Ezra. Let’s take food to those in the stable.”

As the two crossed the courtyard, they stopped and looked up at the most brilliant star they had ever seen. It seemed to be shining high over the stable, and yet it seemed so near.

Ezra knocked softly on the stable door. The man opened it a small crack. “We have brought you some food,” the boy said.

Opening the door wider, the man took the cruse. “Thank you. A cup of milk will be good for Mary, my wife.”

“Joseph,” the woman called, “let the boy come in and see the new Baby.”

Ezra and Asaph walked quietly into the stable, where Mary lay on the straw bed holding a sleeping Baby. Somehow Ezra knew this Baby was special. The moment he looked at the newborn Child, he fell to his knees.

“I’m sorry I was so unkind,” Asaph said to the man.

The man replied, “We understand how difficult your day has been.”

“And we greatly appreciate the kindness of your son,” the woman quietly added.

Ezra looked up at Asaph, the innkeeper. Asaph smiled and put his hand gently on the boy’s shoulder. “I have wanted a son for a long time, Ezra. I would be proud if you would be that son.”

Ezra felt as if stars of happiness were exploding all around him. “I would love to be your son,” he smiled.

As they left the stable and crossed the courtyard together, Asaph said, “There is room under the stairs for you to rest also.”

Ezra was much too excited to sleep, but he wanted to rest close to his new parents. How grateful I am that the strangers came to our stable, Ezra thought. I will not feel lonely anymore.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Richard Bird